Honesty time: How many journals do you have laying around that have a couple days or a week of entries, and then long lapses of time before the next page is filled out … or even no entries past that point?
Same. In fact, if I had a dollar for every journal entry starting with “It’s been a long time since I last wrote …” I’d be, well, you know.
But we all know how amazing journaling can be — for processing emotions, being creative, discovering ourselves … the list goes on and on.
So in a similar challenge-type format to this — and also straight from the self-help book Get Your Life Together(ish) — in this guest post, author Julia Dellitt lays out three different ways you can make journaling a regular habit. Each challenge has a a different difficulty level, so pick the one that feels the best for you. And never have blank pages again!
Challenge: Start a Journal by Julia Dellitt
Growing up, I always had four or five notebooks lying around, usually gifted from one of my parents with an inspirational saying on the front cover, and I wrote in the first ten pages or so before getting bored and discarding my journal for Beanie Babies or the new Boyz II Men cassette tape. Even though I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, the act of writing out my day-to-day thoughts and feelings seemed tedious at best. But in college and my early twenties, as life became more complex, journaling offered a safe space. I struggled with body image, relationships, perfectionism, and people-pleasing, among other issues, and my journal gave me permission to lay it all bare. I could be my worst self, or my most confused self, or my most self-involved self, and nobody would know but me. And when I returned to some of those entries months or years later, I saw bits and pieces of the person I was trying to be, aha moments that later took shape in a meaningful way, and most of all, a collection of memories that I would’ve otherwise forgotten.
We live in a digital world where everything is on the cloud or captured in real time for a tailored audience — so there’s something valuable about journaling just for yourself, for no other reason than to chronicle a slice of time in your life that won’t be later forgotten. The best part? There aren’t any rules to journaling. You can start anytime, anywhere, at any age.
WRITE FOR FIVE MINUTES
Difficulty Level: Easy
People who want to journal, but don’t, are often tripped up by one of the following mind-sets: (a) OMG, what if I write something totally dumb or pointless, (b) I don’t have time for this, (c) I need to go to the store and buy a fancy leather notepad, or — my personal favorite — (d) I’m not a “good” writer. Let’s dismantle each one, shall we?
First, nobody is going to read what you wrote except for you — and that’s only if you want to. You probably will write something dumb or pointless, but who cares? You’re not Tolstoy; you’re a human trying to practice putting thoughts on paper. Second, you have five minutes, so stop making excuses. Third, don’t fall into the trap of needing to spend money before embarking on any self-improvement efforts! All you need is a blank piece of paper. Finally, the writing police are not around the corner, waiting to lock you up for being mediocre. You do not need to be a published writer with a degree in creative writing for permission to write or for your words to matter.
All you have to do is write for five whole minutes. You can spend the whole time complaining about how your mom pissed you off the other day, or how you miss your ex, or how your boss smells. You can spend these five minutes noting everything you’re thankful for: a beautiful day, strong cocktails, enough money to pay your rent or mortgage, someone to hug, dental insurance. Or you can write “I have nothing to say” over and over again. It doesn’t matter. Set the timer and go.
WRITE FOR FIVE MINUTES A DAY, THREE DAYS THIS WEEK
Difficulty Level: Medium
Building upon the easy challenge, aim to write for the same amount of time, but do so repeatedly throughout your week — otherwise you’re going to end up like me at age sixteen with too many unfinished journals. Instead you’re trying to form a habit, which will take a little longer. This is when the writing part will start to feel boring and dull, like homework, and you’re likely to encounter some resistance in the form of “I don’t know what to say.” And that’s when most people quit.
I’ll share a secret with you: the vast majority of worthwhile choices in life are not incredibly sexy, particularly the ones where you have to put in repeated effort. I know — blah. That reality irritates those of us who live in this hyper-connected, always stimulated world …which is, um, all of us. Journaling is no different. You sit there for a couple of seconds or minutes, and you mostly think about the fact that you’re bored and you could be doing all these other things and writing is pointless anyway. Then you get tired of that line of thinking, and your mind starts to wander over to one thought that snakes its way to the front: a reflection from the day prior, a question you want the answer to, the realization that you’re quite tired or sad or grateful or content. Any one of those thoughts is worth exploring and will probably stoke your interest, but you can’t get to that point without slogging through the “I’m so bored” phase. You won’t notice how you feel, or what’s going on with your inner self, unless you consistently pause to make space for those observations.
WRITE FOR FIVE MINUTES EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH
Difficulty Level: Hard
You see where I’m going with this, right? You’re utilizing the same structures and habit-forming behaviors as before, just over a longer period of time. You will 100 percent have days where you’re not feeling it and you can’t remember why you even cared about writing on a daily basis in the first place. Stick with the five-minute plan because, again, you can do anything for five minutes. If you have time to watch an episode of your favorite show, look at social media, talk on the phone, take a shower, work out, etc. — then you have time to write for five gosh-darn minutes.
Throughout the month look for patterns of thought or behavior — meaning that if every time you sit down to write, you immediately jump up to do the dishes or walk the dog or rearrange a closet, then maybe that’s a red flag you miiiiiight be avoiding something deep down. Or you just really dislike journaling, in which case, scrap it as a goal after the month is over. Perhaps every entry alludes to your desire to quit your job, or the fact that you’re ready to get engaged, or you wish you owned a cat, or you want to try a capsule wardrobe. Again, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you notice, but you will probably notice something in relationship to how you’re feeling, a direction you’d like your life to go, or a change you might need to make.
Who’s down to set a timer and get to journaling? –Julia Dellitt
Excerpted from Get Your Life Together(ish) by Julia Dellitt. Copyright © 2019 Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher, Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. All rights reserved.